Premature twins are now 11 and thriving

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VANCOUVER, Wash. - Pregnant with twins, Heather and Jason Fuller knew they would likely be welcoming their babies before their due date. Twins, Jason said, often arrive a couple of weeks early.

But when Heather went into labor when she was 30 weeks pregnant - 10 weeks early and after two months of bed rest, half of which was in the hospital - the couple feared their sons wouldn't survive.

First came Tristin, born at 7:39 p.m. and weighing 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Doctors held the baby up for Heather and Jason to get a glimpse before nurses whisked him away.

A minute later came Justin, weighing 3 pounds 5 ounces. There was no displaying of Justin to the new parents; he was surrounded by medical providers immediately.

"Here's your two new babies, and there's 10 people around each of them," Jason said. "You're like, 'Whoa. Are they alive? What's happening?' "

It was three hours before Heather got to see her sons together for the first time. It was weeks before either she or Jason got to hold one of their children.

But, five weeks after their early arrival, the Fuller twins went home. Today, Justin and Tristin are 11 years old and thriving.

Justin excels in athletics; he recently returned from North Carolina where he played on USA Baseball's Northwest team. Tristin excels in academics and has published two books, for which he did the writing and illustrating.

The boys have asthma, but beyond that, they're healthy and have had none of the health issues for which premature babies are often at risk.

"It's amazing with as early as they were, and the issues they could have had," Jason said.

Justin and Tristin are just two of the 3,200 children who have received care at the Legacy Salmon Creek NICU since the hospital opened in August 2005. The boys were born the following May.

In the first year, the NICU cared for 11 babies. Last year, 333 babies spent time in the Salmon Creek NICU.

The hospital has invited all of those babies and their families back to the hospital for a NICU reunion. The Saturday celebration included treats, prizes, carnival games, face-painting and other activities.

The Fullers plan to attend the event, revisiting the NICU that became all-too-familiar for the family during the boys' five-week stay.

"It just seemed like the world stopped while they were in the NICU," Heather said.

Pregnancy didn't come easy for Heather and Jason. After various fertility treatments, they finally conceived via in vitro fertilization. But about halfway through her pregnancy, Heather's cervix began to open and doctors feared she would lose the babies. She was put on bed rest.

About a month later, additional concerns led doctors to admit Heather to the hospital for the remainder of her pregnancy. She asked how big her babies were; at that time, doctors estimated they weighed only 1 to 1.5 pounds.

"I was devastated," Heather said. "I didn't want to have them that early."

Doctors used steroids to help the boys' lungs develop while in utero, expecting they would arrive before their little bodies were ready.

Tristin was bigger throughout the pregnancy, taking all of the nutrients from his brother. When they were born, doctors said Justin might not make it. But he proved them wrong.

Though he's still shorter and lighter than Tristin, Justin is just as healthy as his brother. Doctors have followed both boys' development closely, but neither had any developmental or health issues beyond bouts with croup. They started walking early, and ditched bottles easily, Heather said.

"Everything has come early for them," she said.

Justin learned to walk first and has gone on to become a phenomenal athlete, his parents say. He's a pitcher and plays shortstop, including during the recent USA Baseball tournament. He hunts with his dad and likes to go fishing.

Tristin has always excelled in school, and there's talk about moving him into advanced classes. He wrote and illustrated two books - "Tim Becomes Toast" and "Tim 2: The City" - and enjoys art projects.

They're also typical brothers.

"They like to fight a lot," Jason said, with a laugh.

But to see the boys thriving, especially given the early uncertainty, is an amazing feeling for the La Center parents.

"I feel that they are miracles," Heather said.

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